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Kittitas County Profile

Overview | Geographic facts | Outlook | Labor force and unemployment |
Industry employment | Wages and Income | Population


Regional context

Kittitas County is in the center of the state, 100 miles east of Seattle across the Cascade Mountain Range. The county is bordered by Chelan, Grant and Yakima counties. With 2,297 square miles, it is one of the largest counties in the state. Over two-thirds of its area is hilly and mountainous, making it sparsely populated with 17.8 persons per square mile compared to 101.1 in Washington state in 2010.

Local economy

Native American inhabitants in the Kittitas Valley date back almost 300 years in official records. The forerunners of the contemporary Yakama Nation occupied the land along the Yakima River, including the Kittitas Valley. The 1840s saw an influx of Euro-American settlers who brought measles and other diseases deadly to the indigenous population. The Treaty of 1855, following the Cayuse Indian War, resulted in the tribes moving to the Yakama and Colville Reservations. The 1883 Washington Territorial Legislature split off the northern part of Yakima County and recognized it as Kittitas County.

White settlers engaged in livestock raising, crop farming, dairying, logging and lumber processing and mining. Irrigation promoted an expansion in agriculture and food processing. By 1950, agriculture was a major sector in employment and income. By the 1960’s, the horse industry, including horseracing, showing and recreation horses increased the demand for hay. Many ranchers switched to hay and grain production as feed costs rose and price controls limited beef profitability.

Today, timothy hay is a major Kittitas County cash crop. According to a September 4, 2011 article in the Seattle Times, 90 percent of the timothy grown in the Kittitas Valley “will never be eaten by an American horse or cow. . . Nearly all of the timothy from here is shipped by sea to Japan and, in lesser amounts, to countries such as South Korea and China and also to the United Arab Emirates.” The article continues: “It means $35 million to $38 million is paid to the farmers and an additional $80 million or so pumped into the economy as the farmers then spend money on everything from equipment to labor, according to the Kittitas County Chamber of Commerce.” Although not a labor intensive crop, the growing, storage and distribution of timothy hay is an important component of the local economy.

In terms of wages generated in the Kittitas County economy, state and local governments are the dominate sources. In 2013, state government and local government accounted for 39.2 percent, or almost four out of every ten dollars of wages earned in Kittitas County. Ellensburg is the largest city in Kittitas County, with 18,370 residents in 2013 and 44 percent of the county’s total population of 41,765 (see Population section). According to the Economic Development Group of Kittitas County, four of the top five employers in Ellensburg are government organizations: Central Washington University (CWU), Kittitas Valley Hospital (KVH), Kittitas County government, the Ellensburg School District and Anderson Hay & Grain.


Geographic facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Kittitas County Washington state
Land area, 2010 (square miles) 2,297.27 66,455.42
Persons per square mile, 2010 17.8 101.2



In 2009 the Kittitas County nonfarm economy was hit hard by the recent recession. It began to recover lost jobs in 2010. However, total nonfarm employment countywide virtually stagnated in each of the four years from 2010 through 2013. A comparison of average annual nonfarm employment changes in the county and in Washington state during the last five completed years (2009-2013) and an estimate of nonfarm employment in 2014 follows:

  • In 2009 - The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) stated that the national recession occurred from December 2007 through June 2009. However, the recession hit Kittitas County’s job market in 2009. Nonfarm employment sank from an average of 15,180 jobs in 2008 (the “peak” employment year for Kittitas County during the ten years from 2004 through 2013) to 14,500 in 2009, a 4.5 percent contraction and a loss of 680 jobs. One of the sectors with the highest job losses during this recession was mining, logging and construction (with the vast majority of these jobs in construction). This sector alone lost 350 jobs between 2008 (when local construction firms provided 1,080 jobs) and 2009 (when employment averaged only 730), equating to a 32.4 percent downturn. Employment across Washington also plummeted from 2,993,900 nonfarm jobs in 2008 to 2,863,400 in 2009, 4.4 percent downturn and a loss of 130,500 nonfarm jobs.
  • In 2010 - On an average annual basis, 2010 was a year of modest recovery for Kittitas County’s labor market. Total nonfarm employment averaged 14,880 in 2010 a 380-job and 2.6 percent upturn from the 14,500 jobs tallied in 2009. On the downside, mining, logging and construction saw payrolls continue to erode by 70 jobs, as employment slipped from 730 jobs countywide in 2009 to 660 in 2010, a 9.6 percent contraction. On the upside, state and local government education jumped from an average of 3,770 in 2009 to 4,120 in 2010, a 350 job and 9.3 percent increase. It should be noted that student employment at Central Washington University (CWU) is included in the state and local government education category. Washington state dropped 26,300 jobs (to 2,837,100), a 0.9 percent retrenchment. If there was good news for the Evergreen state’s nonfarm economy in 2010, it was that the job loss rate was not as severe (minus 0.9 percent) as it was in 2009 (minus 4.4 percent).
  • In 2011 - The economy added nonfarm jobs across Washington state and in Kittitas County. The county added 50 new jobs (a modest 0.3 percent advance) as nonfarm employment rose to 14,930. One of the major reasons was the rapid expansion in Kittitas County’s leisure and hospitality sector (primarily hotels and restaurants). This industry grew from 2,310 jobs in 2010 to 2,520 in 2011, a 210 job and a 9.1 percent upturn. Average annual downturns in retail trade (down by 50 jobs and 1.2 percent) and in state and local government education (down by 60 jobs and 3.7 percent) did not overshadow the gains in Kittitas County’s leisure and hospitality industry. Washington’s nonfarm growth rate in 2011 averaged 1.3 percent as the economy generated 36,300 new jobs and employment grew to 2,873,400.
  • In 2012 - The state labor market continued to expand, but the local labor market lost the same number of jobs it gained in 2011. Specifically, total nonfarm employment averaged 14,880 jobs in Kittitas County in 2012, a 50 job decrease (down 0.3 percent) from the 14,930 provided during 2011. Private education and health services employers gained 60 new jobs in 2012. However, state and local government education lost 120 jobs, falling from 4,070 in 2011 to 3,950 in 2012, a 2.9 percent contraction. Washington’s labor market continued to recover in 2012 as employers added 48,400 jobs, a 1.7 percent upturn and nonfarm employment averaged 2,921,800.
  • In 2013 - Kittitas County’s economy virtually stagnated. Total nonfarm employment inched upwards only 0.1 percent, from 14,880 jobs in 2012 to 14,900 in 2013. Meanwhile, across the state in 2013, the total nonfarm growth rate was 2.3 percent as the economy generated 68,600 new jobs and employment averaged 2,990,400. This was the third consecutive year of rising job growth rates in Washington state (i.e., 1.3 percent in 2011, 1.7 percent in 2012 and 2.3 percent in 2013).
  • In 2014 - At the time of report preparation, October 2014 employment figures and unemployment rates were the most current data available. Kittitas County's nonfarm employment increased 5.2 percent between the Octobers of 2013 and 2014 and has been growing for the past eleven months (December 2013 through October 2014). Barring unforeseen economic events in the 4th Quarter of 2014, it is anticipated that Kittitas County’s total nonfarm employment will net approximately 420 new jobs and average 15,320 in 2014. This will be a 2.8 percent average annual increase above the 14,900 nonfarm jobs tallied in 2013 and it will be the best average annual job growth rate since 2010, when the nonfarm market grew at a 2.6 percent clip. Hence, 2014 is likely to be the year in which total nonfarm employment will meet or exceed the pre-recession peak employment figure of 15,180 recorded in 2008 – a process that took seven years. Projections indicate that the following three Kittitas County industries are likely to show the highest increases in their payrolls:
    • State and local government education (which includes student employment at CWU) is expected to rise from 3,950 in 2013 to 4,130 in 2014, a 180 job and 4.6 percent increase.
    • Construction is expected to expand from 710 in 2013 to 810 in 2014, a 100 job and 14.1 percent increase.
    • Private education and health services is expected to climb from 1,370 in 2013 to 1,450 in 2014, an 80 job and 5.8 percent increase.

Labor force and unemployment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

Current labor force and unemployment statistics are available on the Labor area summaries page.

Unemployment rates in Kittitas County were fairly consistent in the four-year period from 2005 to 2008 (before the recession). Rates ranged from a low of 4.8 percent in 2007 to “highs” of 5.9 percent in 2005 and 2008. During the recent recession, unemployment rates in Kittitas County rose to 9.1 percent in 2009 and 9.4 percent in 2010. Average annual unemployment rates have been on the decline ever since. The unemployment rate fell to 8.9 percent in 2011, 8.3 percent in 2012 and 7.4 percent in 2013.

Between 2012 and 2013 in Kittitas County:

  • Not seasonally adjusted unemployment declined from 8.3 to 7.4 percent, a nine-tenths percentage point contraction. In comparison, Washington state’s unemployment rate decreased one and one-tenths percentage point (from 8.1 percent in 2012 to 7.0 percent in 2013).
  • The average number of unemployed fell from 1,700 in 2012 to 1,490, meaning that 210 fewer Kittitas County residents were out of work in 2013 versus 2012.
  • The civilian labor force (CLF) shrank by 380, from 20,430 to 20,050 residents (down 1.9 percent). Fortunately, the number of unemployed Kittitas County residents decreased at a faster pace than the labor force contracted and the not seasonally adjusted average annual unemployment rate decreased from 8.3 percent in 2012 to 7.4 percent in 2013. Labor forces in the following neighboring counties also contracted in 2013: Adams County’s CLF ebbed by 1.0 percent; the Wenatchee MSA (Chelan and Douglas counties) CLF fell 2.9 percent; and Yakima County’s slipped by 1.1 percent. Even the state’s CLF declined between 2012 and 2013, by 0.7 percent.

Although Kittitas County’s CLF contracted 1.9 percent in 2013 and it continued to decline in the first seven months of 2014, the local labor force did an “about face” between the Augusts of 2013 and 2014 and increased by 1.8 percent. It shrank slightly (by 0.6 percent) between the Septembers of 2013 and 2014 but jumped 5.2 percent between the Octobers of 2013 and 2014. Specifically, 20,190 residents were estimated to be in the CLF in October 2013 versus 21,240 this October. The number of unemployed virtually stabilized with 1,290 residents out of work in October 2013 versus 1,300 in October 2014. This stability in the number of unemployed residents versus the growth of the labor force depressed the local unemployment rate three-tenths of a percentage point from 6.4 to 6.1 percent between the Octobers of 2013 and 2014.

As mentioned earlier, Washington's civilian labor force (CLF) shrank by 23,600 residents (a 0.7 percent downturn) between 2012 and 2013 and it continued to decline during the first six months of 2014; and a declining labor force is just about never good economic news. However, the CLF expanded year over year in July, August, September and October 2014. Between the Octobers of 2013 and 2014 the state’s labor force increased 1.5 percent. In October 2014, Washington’s CLF tallied 3,507,310 residents versus 3,456,140 in October 2013, equating to 51,170 more Washingtonians in the labor force. This recent, four-month trend of year over year labor force growth is good economic news as it likely indicates that more Washington residents are feeling better about their job prospects and hence are re-entering the labor force.


Industry employment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

Current industry employment statistics are available on the Labor area summaries page.

Kittitas County was slow to react to the recent Great Recession and has also been slow to recover:

Data in this section are derived from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Quarterly Census of Employment and Wage (QCEW) program, conducted by the Washington State Employment Security Department. QCEW data includes agricultural and nonagricultural employment and wages for firms, organizations and individuals whose employees are covered by the Washington State Employment Security Act. Also included are data for Federal Government agencies covered by Title 5, U.S.C. 85. Covered employment generally exceeds 85 percent of total employment in the state of Washington.

Types of jobs not covered under the unemployment compensation system and hence not included in QCEW data include casual laborers not performing duties in the course of the employer’s trade or business; railroad personnel; newspaper delivery people; insurance or real estate agents paid on a commission basis only; non-covered employees working for parochial schools, religious, or non-profit organizations; employees of sheltered workshops; inmates working in penal institutions; non-covered corporate officers; etc.

The North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) is an industry classification system that groups businesses/organizations into categories or sectors based on the activities in which they are primarily engaged. There are 19 private sectors and three government sectors (for a total of 22 sectors) at the 2-digit NAICS code level, within each county-level economy. One can observe much about the structure of a county’s economy by quantifying and comparing the number of jobs and the percentage of jobs in these sectors by using annual average Quarterly Census of Employment and Wage (QCEW) data. The most recent average annual employment data available for Kittitas County are for 2013 and these data show:

The top five Kittitas County sectors in 2013 in terms of employment were:

Sector Number of jobs Share of employment
1. Accommodation and food services 2,380 16.7%
2. Local government 2,157 15.5%
3. State government 1,967 14.1%
4. Retail trade 1,628 11.7%
5. Health Services 1,068 7.7%
Total covered employment 13,937 100%
All other industries 4,737 34.0%

A comparison of the top five sectors that provided the most jobs in Kittitas County in 2013 with the sectors that produced the highest payrolls follows:

  • Accommodation and food services (primarily hotels and restaurants) provided 17.1 percent of all jobs countywide, but only 8.5 percent of all payrolls (see Wages and income section).
  • Local government had 15.5 percent of all jobs, but 18.4 percent of payrolls.
  • State government provided 14.1 percent of all jobs countywide, but 20.8 percent of total payrolls.
  • Retail trade provided 11.7 percent of all covered employment, but only 8.1 percent of payrolls. There are at least two reasons for the relatively high percentage of local jobs in the retail trade and in the accommodation and food services sectors:
    • A high proportion of jobs in the county are tourism related.
    • Kittitas County has an ample supply of labor (primarily CWU students working part-time jobs at hotels, restaurants and retail trade stores, etc.).
  • Private health services tallied 7.7 percent of total covered employment but accounted for only 6.4 percent of payrolls (see Wages and income section). This sector only includes jobs with private health services firms. Jobs with public health care facilities (i.e., at KVH, etc.) are included in local government.

For historical industry employment data, contact an economist.

Industry employment by age and gender

(Source: The Local Employment Dynamics)

The Local Employment Dynamics (LED) database, a joint project of state employment departments and the U.S. Census Bureau, matches state employment data with federal administrative data. Among the products is industry employment by age and gender. All workers covered by state unemployment insurance data are included; federal workers and non-covered workers, such as the self-employed, are not. Data are presented by place of work, not place of residence. Some highlights:

The two largest jobholder age groups in Kittitas County were the 55-years and over and the 25-34 years categories. These two categories accounted for 21.1 percent and 20.8 percent of employment in 2012. A close-third was the 45-to-54 years old group, at 20.4 percent.

In 2012, women held 51.2 percent of all jobs in Kittitas County. However, there were substantial differences in gender dominance by industry.

  • Male-dominated industries included construction (85.8 percent), transportation and warehousing (80.6 percent) and utilities (76.6 percent).
  • Female-dominated industries included healthcare and social assistance (77.4 percent), finance and insurance (70.7 percent) and other services (64.4 percent).

Wages and income

(Source: Employment Security Department; Bureau of Labor Statistics; Bureau of Economic Analysis; U.S. Census Bureau; U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey)

In 2013, there were 13,937 covered employment jobs in Kittitas County, based on revised figures. The total payroll for 2013 was approximately $447.6 billion. The average annual wage was $34,270 or 64.6 percent of the state average of $53,030.

The top five Kittitas County industries in 2013 in terms of payrolls were:

Sector Payroll Share of payrolls
1. State government $99,357,579 20.8%
2. Local government $87,799,593 18.4%
3. Accommodation and food services $40,368,994 8.5%
4. Retail trade $38,764,813 8.1%
5. Health services $30,352,125 6.4%
Total covered payrolls $477,624,639 100%
All other industries $180,981,535 37.9%

A comparison of the top five sectors that produced the highest payrolls in Kittitas County in 2013 with the sectors that provided the most jobs follows:

  • State government provided 20.8 percent of total payroll or wages and 14.1 percent of all jobs. Over one of every five dollars in wage income earned during 2013 was provided by a state government organization. According to the media and economic development organizations, the largest employer in Kittitas County is CWU.
  • Local government accounted for 18.4 percent of wages and 15.5 percent of all jobs. In aggregate, state and local government payrolls provided 39.2 percent, or almost two of every five dollars, of wages earned countywide in 2013.
  • Accommodation and food services (primarily hotels and restaurants) provided 17.1 percent of all jobs countywide, but only 8.5 percent of total payroll or wages (see Wages and income section).
  • Retail trade provided only 8.1 percent of covered wage income and 11.7 percent of all jobs.
  • Private health services provided 6.4 percent of wages and 7.7 percent of total covered employment. This sector only includes wages earned at private health services firms. Wages earned at public health care facilities (i.e., at KVH, etc.) are included in the local government sector.

Personal income

Personal income includes earned income, investment income, and government payments such as Social Security and Veterans Benefits. Investment income includes income imputed from pension funds and from owning a home. Per capita personal income equals total personal income divided by the resident population.

Per capita income in Kittitas County was estimated at $35,630 in 2012, 77.4 percent of the state average and 81.5 percent of the U.S. average. Kittitas County ranks 26th in the state (out of 39 counties) for per capita income.

Earned income in 1972 made up 71 percent of total income of the typical Kittitas County resident, but by 2012 earned income was only 55 percent of total personal income.

Government transfer payments as a proportion of county residents’ personal income have increased from 13 percent in 1972 to 20 percent in 2012.

Investments as a proportion of county residents’ personal income have increased from 16 percent in 1972 to 25 percent in 2012.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts, the median household income in Kittitas County was $42,982 in the period 2009 to 2013. This was less the statewide median household income of $59,478 and the national median income of $53,046 during the same period.

Kittitas County’s poverty rate of 22.6 percent in the period 2009 to 2013 was much higher than the state’s rate of 13.4 percent and the nation’s rate of 15.4 percent, according to U.S Census Bureau QuickFacts. Relatively low student wages often increase poverty statistics in college-dominant counties such as Kittitas.



(Source: U.S. Census Bureau)

Kittitas County’s population in 2013 was 41,765. The population grew 2.1 percent from April 1, 2010 through July 1, 2013, slower than that of state’s 3.7 percent growth rate during this timeframe.

The largest city in Kittitas County is Ellensburg, the county seat with an estimated population of 18,370 in 2013.

Population facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Kittitas County Washington state
Population 2013 41,765 6,971,406
Population 2010 40,909 6,724,543
Percent change, 2010 to 2013 2.1% 3.7%

Age, gender and ethnicity

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

In 2013, a slightly larger portion (14.4 percent) of Kittitas County’s population was 65 years and older compared to the state (13.6 percent).

The county had a lower proportion of its residents under the age of 18 (18.0 percent) in 2013 than the state (22.9 percent).

Females in 2013 made up 49.6 percent of the population, below that of the state at 50.0 percent.

Kittitas County is less ethnically diverse than the state and nation. In 2013, 92.2 percent of its residents were white, higher than the state (81.2 percent) and the nation (77.7 percent).


(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Kittitas County Washington state
Population by age, 2013    
Under 5 years old 5.0% 6.4%
Under 18 years old 18.0% 22.9%
65 years and older 14.4% 13.6%
Females, 2013 49.6% 50.0%
Race/ethnicity, 2013
White 92.2% 81.2%
Black 1.1% 4.0%
American Indian, Alaskan Native 1.2% 1.9%
Asian, Native Hawaiian, Other Pacific Islander 2.4% 8.6%
Hispanic or Latino, any race 8.4% 11.7%

Educational attainment

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Slightly more Kittitas County residents age 25 and older (91.0 percent) were high school graduates compared to the state (90.0 percent) and the nation (85.7 percent) over the period of 2009 to 2013.

Those with a bachelor’s degree or higher made up 33.6 percent of Kittitas County residents age 25 and older, which compares favorably with 31.9 percent of state residents and 28.5 percent of U.S. residents over the same period. Having a major university (Central Washington University) in the county accounts for the higher adult population educational levels.